Apr 19, 2023 - Podcasts

Fox News v. Dominion trial over before it started

Fox News reached a $787 million settlement with Dominion Voting Systems on Tuesday – after a jury had been selected and lawyers were waiting to make their opening statements. What does this 11th-hour settlement mean for the media company?

  • Plus, an American journalist arrested in Russia makes his first court appearance.
  • And, it’s the NBA playoffs.

Guests: Axios' Sara Fischer, Dave Lawler and Kendall Baker

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Fonda Mwangi and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Wednesday, April 19th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: an American journalist arrested in Russia makes his first court appearance. Plus, it’s the NBA playoffs. But first, today’s One Big Thing: the Fox News, Dominion trial is over before it even started.

Fox News v. Dominion trial is over before it even started

JOHN POULOS: Fox has admitted to telling lies about dominion that caused enormous damage to my company, our employees, and the customers that we serve. Nothing can ever make up for that.

NIALA: That's Dominion CEO John Poulos, talking about the $787.5 million settlement Fox News reached with Dominion Voting Systems yesterday. After a jury had been selected and lawyers were waiting to make their opening statements.

Axios’ Sara Fischer joins us from Wilmington, Delaware, where she's covering the story. Hi Sara.


NIALA: This trial was set to be a landmark case on defamation. Why do you think there was a settlement at the 11th-hour?

SARA: I think sometimes when you get in front of a jury, it forces both parties to really come to the table and figure out what they want and make their final demands. I think you see with the settlement that what Dominion was really looking for was a number, and what Fox was really looking for was having to dodge apologies or on air retractions things that would've been reputationally damaging.

Now, Fox doesn't walk away totally clean, of course, they have to pay $787 million. That's the highest media defamation lawsuit ever in history. But then also they acknowledged in their statement that the court found that what they had been airing about Dominion was false. And that's key, Niala, because this isn't the only defamation lawsuit that Fox faces. That admission may come up in other lawsuits, defamation lawsuits that they're facing, most notably from Smartmatic. That lawsuit is for $2.7 billion.

NIALA: What does this settlement tell us about what we can expect from Smartmatic?

SARA: Smartmatic lawyers are basically saying that Dominion litigation exposed some of the major damages and misconduct that was caused by Fox's disinformation campaign. You expect Smartmatic to lean on some of the discovery some of the things that came out. So, Fox is facing a huge uphill battle moving forward given the fact that even though they settled this so much has come out pretrial, that could implicate them in future defamation settlements and hearings.

NIALA: And Sara, what does all of this mean for Fox News and its coverage, as we already have entered the 2024 election season?

SARA: Well Niala, what this means for Fox is that they have to be more careful moving forward when they're putting people on their air that might be spouting election lies. But as far as what this means for Fox, Niala, sources tell Axios that as a part of this agreement, they're not required to issue any on-air apologies or retractions. So don't expect Fox hosts to come out and apologize and say that this was a big mistake. It's gonna be business as usual on Fox's air, barring any little bits of more careful thought when it comes to airing things about election denial, et cetera.

NIALA: Sara Fischer is Axios’ media reporter from the road in Wilmington, Delaware. Thanks, Sara.

SARA: Thanks, Niala.

NIALA: In a moment, Russia’s arrest and detention of a Wall Street Journal reporter.


American journalist arrested in Russia makes his first court appearance

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Evan Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal reporter arrested in Moscow last month on espionage charges, was in Russian court yesterday, his first public appearance since he's been arrested. U.S. Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy said outside the courthouse, it was very troubling to see an American journalist detained under these circumstances.

LYNNE TRACY: The charges against Evan are baseless and we call on the Russian Federation to immediately release him.

NIALA: Axios’ Dave Lawler is here to go deeper.

Dave, when and how was Evan Gershkovich detained?

DAVE: Evan was detained three weeks ago when he was traveling on assignment to Yekaterinburg in Russia, uh, he was brought back to Moscow and he's been held in quite an infamous prison, for people facing charges like the ones he's facing, which are espionage charges, which The Journal, the U.S. government, all of his colleagues say, are completely unfounded. There were images at the time of him being kind of rushed, into a room with a hood on his head. Now we've seen him again for the first time in three weeks in court, in Moscow. He was in this sort of glass box in the back of a courtroom pacing around, and trying to appeal the pretrial detention, which his appeal perhaps, unsurprisingly, was denied.

NIALA: We should talk about the reporting Evan was doing before he was arrested. What was it?

DAVE: Yeah, so his most recent byline was on a story about the effect that sanctions were having on the Russian economy. Perhaps his biggest story in the month before he was arrested was about Putin's shrinking inner circle and kind of the sense of paranoia in the Kremlin. He's a very, very well respected reporter, both by his Russian colleagues and by people back in Washington like me who were reading his stuff. We don't know a lot about this story that he was working on, right at the time that he was arrested, but certainly he had quite a track record of hard-hitting coverage of the war and Russian more generally.

NIALA: WNBA star Britney Griner was recently returned to the U.S. after the U.S. government pushed hard for her release from a Russian prison. Dave, how is this case different?

DAVE: In part because of the charges he's facing. These are espionage charges. Paul Whelan, another American, is facing espionage charges and was not included in the prisoner swap that got Britney Griner out of prison. They're similar in the sense that that swap didn't happen until Britney Griner went through the trial process, was convicted, and then swapped. That tends to be how Russia operates, and so unfortunately, this could be some time before the trial even finishes and he faces a likely conviction just given the Russian track record not, not because these charges have any validity. It was nine months for Britney Griner in Russian custody. This is only three weeks into Evan's ordeal. So, earlier this week, the U.S. ambassador to the UN gave a statement and ambassadors from 45 other countries stood alongside her to signal that they were joining in this call for Evan to be released. Certainly, journalistic organizations have called for his release. Many of his, uh, brave colleagues who are still in Russia, have also spoken out, but it's not clear whether anyone in the Kremlin is listening at the moment.

NIALA: We'll include a link to Evan's reporting so you can read his journalism. Dave Lawler is a senior world reporter at Axios. Thanks, Dave.

DAVE: Thanks Niala.

NBA playoffs

NIALA: The NBA playoffs are underway and already there's been no shortage of excitement on the court. There's always great storylines around the playoffs, including this time the Sacramento Kings making their first postseason appearance since 2006, and they're currently up two games to zero against the defending champions, The Golden State Warriors.

Axios’ Kendall Baker is here to make us all smarter about the playoffs. Hey, Kendall.

KENDALL BAKER: Hey, how's it going?

NIALA: So Sacramento's one of these feel good stories of the season, what's behind the end of the longest playoff drought in the league.

KENDALL: Well, I think as is the case with many teams when they go from, not being a playoff team to a playoff team, it's just the team coming together, on the court. They obviously have talent. De’Aaron Fox is having an incredible season. He has way more clutch points, which is essentially points at the end of the game when they matter most, than any other player in the league and Mike Brown, their coach, is the favorite for coach of the year for a reason. And finally, this season, after this very long, um, historic drought, there are, there are serious contender at the playoffs.

NIALA: And so it's almost more fun to root for the underdog, I think. But what's going on with Golden State, I feel like they're always the powerhouse?

KENDALL: Yeah. You know, I think they had somewhat of a disjointed season. I still think coming into this series, a lot of people probably picked the Warriors to beat the Kings just because the Kings haven't been here, they don't have the experience. Uh, but we've seen these first two games, Sacramento's up 2-0 and it should be fun to see what happens as they head back to San Francisco.

NIALA: We should talk about LeBron for a moment. The Lakers have found their way into a first round matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies. What are the Lakers chances here?

KENDALL: Well, I think the Lakers chances are better than you would expect from a team that had to, you know, go through the play and to get here and is playing the number two seed. And I think that's largely because, similar to the Warriors, although even more so with the Lakers, they've battled injuries all year. They've almost never had LeBron James and Anthony Davis and their whole roster together, but game one, they looked really, really good and did not look like the underdog.

NIALA: Kendall, speaking of King James, it's not likely that he's gonna announce retirement this year, right? Because he said very publicly that he wants to play when his son is playing in the NBA.

KENDALL: I think there's a 0% chance he announces that this year and I would give it a very high chance that he does find a way to somehow play with his son. I think he's got at least a couple more years left.

NIALA: How old is he?

KENDALL: 38, he's kind of just redefining how we think about age and sports and retirement, and 38 the new 34, I guess, when you're LeBron James.

NIALA: Axios’ Sports Kendall Baker. Thanks Kendall.

KENDALL: Thank you.

NIALA: One more thing: Axios Today - is a finalist for a Shorty Award for best news and politics podcast. I would love it if you voted for us. We’ll include a link in our show notes.

And that does it for us today! You can get in touch by emailing podcasts at axios dot com or you can text me at (202) 918-4893.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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